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A jury awarded the family of William Enyart $6.5 million from San Bernardino County May 28. The jury found that a sheriff’s deputy was partly responsible for Enyart’s death by alcohol withdrawal in the High Desert Detention Facility on Aug. 1, 2022.

The jury verdict found Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Conley failed to take reasonable action to summon medical care, and was 60% responsible for Enyart’s death. The family argues that Enyart’s drunkenness was not communicated to jail staff by Conley, as is required by county protocols.

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department had no comment, wrote public information officer Mara Rodriguez. Conley is still employed as a deputy, Rodriguez confirmed.

County counsel argued that Enyart’s family did not communicate his alcohol dependence to Conley and other jail staff.

The Enyart family declined to speak on the case through their counsel, Danielle Peña. The Enyarts have a second case against the county that has not yet been resolved.

“My brother was, he was always the fun one in the family. He would always make us laugh and always had great jokes. He loved family. Family was his No. 1 thing in life. That’s what he cherished a lot. Loved holidays. He loved everyone being in the same room, and he loved being a father. It gave him a purpose in life,” said his sister, Amanda Kelley, on the witness stand on the first day of trial.

When his father battled cancer, Enyart had been his primary caregiver. Enyart was diagnosed with severe depression, and originally prescribed Xanax, according to the family’s complaint. He began severely drinking alone in his bedroom.

Two weeks before his death, he had surgery and was prescribed pain pills that exacerbated the effects of alcohol, said their attorney, Joe McMullen, in opening argument.

When Enyart went to renew his prescription on July 27, his sister and mother found alcohol bottles hidden in the closet. They stacked them in the kitchen, and decided to hold an intervention when he returned.

He returned visibly drunk, according to both the complaint and the opening argument.

His mother began to record him with her phone, to show him later how drunk he was, but he smacked the phone out of her hand. His father called the non-emergency line of the Sheriff’s Department at 3:30 p.m. with the goal of de-escalating the situation.

Conley arrived at 3:45 p.m., in time to see Enyart walking out of the house. He asked Enyart to come and talk to him, which Enyart began to do. Conley tried to grab the pocketknife Enyart had strapped to his belt, and Enyart swatted the officer’s hand away, McMullen said.

Conley arrested Enyart for resisting arrest. Enyart’s family began telling sheriff’s deputies that Enyart had alcohol issues, and that they wanted him to be placed on a hold, McMullen said. The family’s complaint says that they talked directly to Conley about Enyart’s alcohol dependence.

During booking, Conley reported that Enyart was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

He also recommended that Enyart be charged with a felony, because he had bent Conley’s finger.

The family called the Apple Valley substation, worried that Enyart was going to start seizing, McMullen said. Conley called back at 6 p.m.

“I told (Conley) I was really worried about (Enyart). We asked if he agreed to a blood alcohol test and he said no. He said that we should file for a move out order while he was incarcerated. And my husband said to him that he’s really a good kid. He just has a really bad alcohol problem,” said Enyart’s mother, Fran.

During that call, Conley indicated he knew Enyart was drunk.

“(Conley) said he smelled alcohol on his breath all the way to the detention center,” Fran said.

They called the jail 32 times over the next five days, according to their complaint. The family’s second lawsuit is against the phone operators who answered their calls.

“They’re calling, and they’re calling. And when they get through, they say You have to watch our son. He’s got a drinking problem. There’s something wrong with him, and we want to make sure that he’s OK,” McMullen said.

Enyart began developing a psychosis from his alcohol withdrawal, but his delirium was misclassified as a mental health issue, McMullen said. 

Instead of following county protocols to treat alcohol withdrawal, authorities placed Enyart in a cell by himself.

Detectives told the Enyarts about their son’s death on Aug. 1, five days after he was arrested.

San Bernardino County Counsel Jacob Ramirez gave opening argument for the county.

Enyart and his family did not communicate his alcohol dependence, Ramirez said. They did not talk with Conley during Enyart’s arrest, and did not explain their concerns during their calls.

“You’ll hear from Mr. Enyart’s mother and Deputy Conley that because of how the arrest went down, Deputy Conley never got a chance to speak with the Enyart family. He was tasked with arresting and booking Mr. Enyart pursuant to County procedures, and that’s what he did,” Ramirez said in his opening argument.

Both during the arrest and during his jail intake, Enyart denied he was drinking, Ramirez said. A jail intake nurse said that he had no reason to believe Enyart was drunk at the time of his booking, and that Enyart did not smell like alcohol at the time, Ramirez said. No one saw Enyart drink alcohol immediately prior to his arrest, Ramirez said.

“He was evaluated by a paramedic at the Enyart home, an intake nurse at the first facility, medical clinicians at both facilities, mental health nurses at the second facility, a physician’s assistant, and he was scheduled to see a psychiatrist all within six days. Unfortunately, as the evidence will also show, Mr. Enyart repeatedly concealed the truth with each medical provider,” Ramirez said.

The verdict was not entirely in the family’s favor. The jury found that none of the four individual defendants violated Enyart’s 14th Amendment right to medical care. It also found that three defendants were not negligent.

California Central District Judge R. Gary Klausner presided.

Case No. 5:23-cv-00540

Read the complaint here.

Read opening arguments here.

Read the verdict here.

Photo credit: “Justice For Billy” gofundme page set up by Amanda Enyart


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